Family vacations are only fun during the actual trip. Before and after? Not so much. Between all the travel bookings beforehand and the credit card bills upon return, I’m often left wondering: Why did we ever go in the first place?
If you’re like me, knowing that I’m saving some money along the way can make the entire experience more enjoyable. Here are some money and sanity-saving tips that have worked for me.
#1 Skip the last class ticket
Have you heard of last class? It’s the unofficial name for seats that are worse than those in economy class. You’re typically paying 10 to 20% less for tickets because there are no seat assignments, no refunds, and no upgrades. Major airlines like Delta and American Airlines are rolling out with these fares in order to compete with popular budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier.
If you’re traveling alone and don’t care where you sit, this could be a good option for you. But
to compete with popular budget airlines like Spirit. But for families, it’s not worth the savings, because you’ll likely sit apart from your kids.
Instead, just book smart to save. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are not only the best days to book your tickets, they’re also the optimal days to depart and return from trips.
Related: Top 5 ways we waste money on air travel
#2 Skip paying for a separate seat for your child
If you’re traveling with a child under the age of two, skip paying full price for a separate seat and go with the free “infant in arms” option. Why? Because you can probably get the additional seat for free.
Before my son turned two, we flew five times with him during high travel seasons and always got his seat for free. How? When choosing seat assignments, select a window and an aisle seat in the same row, leaving the middle seat empty. Once you’ve boarded the plane, the person in the middle seat will gladly move to any empty seat they can find because, let’s face it, no one wants to be stuck next to a fussy baby on a flight.
If the flight is completely booked, you can probably just switch seats with the person who’s in that middle seat and be close to your family. But in my experience, even when they say flights are completely booked, there are always one or two seats left open. Flight crews are usually willing to help you play musical chairs so that everyone can have the best possible experience while in the air.
#3 Skip traditional rental car companies
Once you’re on the ground, skip traditional rental car companies and rent a car through FlightCar or Turo.com. They’re like Airbnb for cars — no-fuss, peer-to-peer car rental services. On FlightCar, you rent cars from folks who want to park at the airport for free while making some money on the mileage they get from your rental. When I tried this service, my family was picked up at the airport in a luxury SUV, driven a few miles outside the airport to a parking area, where we rented a car (even better than the one we booked: a BMW SUV), with a carseat thrown in for half the price of Hertz’s $65 charge for the week.
On Turo.com, formerly RelayRides, there are a ton of options to rent larger vehicles like minivans. During the holidays, these vehicles book up quickly and cost two or three times less than traditional rental services like Hertz or Budget.
Worried that you won’t be able to pick up the car at the airport? Fear not! For a fee, many car owners will drop off cars at the airport. And you can see owner ratings and read reviews from previous renters on profile pages. Note that if you need a carseat, this service might not be the best for you because there’s no way to filter out which cars have them. But if you’re lucky and find one that mentions a carseat, those who do have car seats mostly throw them in for free or charge a small fee.
What are some of your secrets to saving money on family vacations? Share them with me here.